I have gotten into the habit of taking Brian’s dog, Charlie, on evening walks through my new neighborhood. I live in a cozy residential area, full of families who have decorated their stone steps with colorful fall gourds and affixed dried ears of corn to their front doors. Freestanding basketball nets loiter outside garage doors; hockey sticks lie abandoned in driveways. At first it was marvelously relaxing; these evening strolls. We went at our own pace, dawdling, casually observing our surroundings, breathing in the fresh air and growling at the life-sized scarecrows. It was not long, however, before I became aware of certain details. I began to notice each time I strolled past a Mercedes parked on a granite driveway, or paused for Charlie to sniff at a pair of side-by-side BMWs. Glancing up at a three-story redbrick house with Victorian windows and iron gates that perches atop a majestic hill down the road from my place, it dawned on me finally: My neighbors are what you would tactfully call ‘very well-off’. And at the moment, compared to them, I am what you would tactfully call….well, off.

Returning to my house that evening, I saw everything with a freshly critical eye—particularly the twenty-five-year old blue Landcruiser with the mismatched red door panel that’s been parked in the driveway for over a year. Should I stick a few dried ears of corn on it, to fit in? I worry that there is nothing to be done for us, especially when I recall that time we left a full-size freezer to defrost on the front lawn for an entire weekend. It was fully defrosted after only a few hours, but we figured, better safe than sorry. Also, better lazy than respectable.

I was already growing ashamed of the fact that, when recycling day rolls around, ours is the only bin that overflows with empty beer and wine bottles. Sure, the occasional milk-gallon jug or soup can sneaks in, but mostly it’s a shiny brown avalanche of empty booze receptacles piled at the end of the driveway every other week. It is some small comfort knowing that we drink decent beer, even if it is in obscene quantities. Our neighbors, their monocles splintering in disapproval, will have to admit that at least we have taste in something. And I know that the man who comes around in the mornings before trash collection (in his Saab) to cash in on our empties appreciates us. Last week he left the loveliest gilt-edged, monogrammed calling card.

‘Molly,’ you are probably thinking. “Why are you complaining about your excessively wealthy neighborhood? You grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. You never fit in there either. You used to hug your doorman. At least you can feel safe walking the dog at night.’ But I can’t! In my last neighborhood, all I had to fear was roving gangs of teenagers and drunken college students. These I at least vaguely understood, having once been part of each of their ranks. Now I am faced with the unknown, having never even remotely rubbed elbows with wealthy suburbanites. When I am faced with the unknown, my mind fills in the blanks with outlandish, unrealistic fears. I blame being read to as a child.

I feel increasingly out of place as I amble past immaculately trimmed lawns in old sneakers and pajama pants, with an unpedigreed dog at the end of a leash that is frayed in three places and coated with dried leaves—and not as a decorative homage to fall. What if someone thinks I am trespassing and calls the cops? What if they decide to administer their own brand of high-end vigilante justice, and I am found in the woods, beaten within an inch of my life with a diamond-headed walking stick? I fear that during one of my innocent, late-night walks, I will accidentally witness a clandestine affair between a wealthy socialite neighbor and her landscaper and have hounds released at me, or be run over by a limo.

I know. There’s something wrong with me. I think it’s mostly the abundance of lively fall decorations that have me flustered. There’s something unnerving about a neighborhood in which lawns are green and uncluttered in the twilight of October, while entranceways, pillars and gateposts are ablaze with fake foliage. I suppose I should be appreciative of the time and effort that is put into these embellishments. After all, they are there for the enjoyment of myself and the few other residents who live in this small community, and they certainly beat my last neighborhood’s October decoration of choice: raw eggs. The least I can do is admire their work. And curb my dog.

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